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Resilience

Getting Up When Life Smacks You in the Head

5 strategies for building resilience.

Key points

  • Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficulty. We all have the capacity for resilience if we work on it.
  • Resilience is important for wellness: it can reduce depression and anxiety and increase longevity and immunity.
  • Resilience can be enhanced by focusing on five elements: Control, Opportunity, Purpose, Attitude of Gratitude, and Play.
SVKlimkin/Unsplash
Source: SVKlimkin/Unsplash

Written by guest blogger Risa Seelenfreund.

In many ways, the summer of 2020 beat me down hard: COVID was rampant, my kids were home, my business was slow, and my anxiety was high. However, last summer also lifted me up in ways I never would have expected.

How? The resilience I needed to develop in order to cope with the challenges of that summer became transformative. It turned that intensely difficult summer into a sacred, precious experience that had a deep impact on my life.

What is resilience?

Simply, resilience is the ability to bounce back from a difficult situation. Picture a rubber band being stretched, bent out of shape, twisted, or stressed to its limit. What happens when you let go? It rebounds. That’s resilience: getting bent out of shape and having the capacity to recover. It might not be easy, and you may not come back exactly as you were before, but your strength and flexibility allow you to recover, sometimes stronger than ever.

Why is resilience important?

Resilience enhances wellness. We tend to hear about the mental health benefits of resilience, including reducing depression and anxiety. However, resilience also benefits physical health in important ways. According to Harvard Health Publishing, resilience is associated with longevity. Per resilience experts Harry Mills and Mark Dombeck, research suggests that resilience boosts mood, which in turn positively impacts the immune system. Thus, for both mental and physical health reasons, it benefits us to work on our resilience.

How to build resilience

Focus on five elements I refer to as COPAP. This acronym stands for Control, Opportunity, Purpose, Attitude of Gratitude, and Play. Each of these elements alone could increase your level of resilience. Working on all five could be life-changing.

  1. Control: This absolutely does not mean control everything you can. Rather, it means let go of the things beyond your control and focus your time and energy on what is within your control. Last summer, I could not control the global pandemic. I could not control that my children’s camp was cancelled. Rather than feeling hopeless about these unfortunate circumstances that were outside my control, I focused my energy on things within my control, like keeping my family safer by social distancing and wearing masks as well as signing up my children for interesting online camps to keep them occupied and learning creatively from home.
  2. Opportunity: This means seeing difficult circumstances constructively. It might not be easy, but you can try to see at least one element of your situation as an opportunity to learn something new, try something a new way, or give up something that wasn’t working well anyway. For example, while the pandemic has been horrible in so many ways, it provided me the time to write my book, Sacred Summer: A Mom’s Guide to Resilience, Discovery, and Family Fun. It allowed my family to spend quality time together. We cooked, played games, and regularly got exercise at an outdoor ropes course. We would not have had these family experiences were it not for COVID keeping us all home.
  3. Purpose: Everyone has a reason for being, their “why.” If you haven’t done so, take the time to determine your purpose, then use your purpose as a reason to motivate yourself to get up and going every day. I hadn’t really thought about my purpose before last summer, but when I did, it came through loud and clear: I was put on this earth to help and teach. When I had tough days last summer, I reminded myself of my purpose and focused on both helping my kids learn something new and coming up with creative ways to teach my business clients. It made a significant difference on days I didn’t feel motivated.
  4. Attitude of Gratitude: Simply, be grateful for what you have. Having a positive attitude can be extremely difficult when times are tough. I chose to challenge myself to be grateful by considering alternatives that could have been worse for my family: We were stuck home, but we stayed healthy. Instead, we could have been careless and gotten very sick. We couldn’t spend indoor time with family and friends, but we had a warm, sunny summer and enjoyed outdoor time together in the fresh air. Instead, it could have been a cool, rainy summer where we couldn’t spend time together. These are two things to be thankful for.
  5. Play: This means have fun by doing something you enjoy. I know you’re busy, I’m busy too, but we all benefit by making even a small amount of time to do things we love, whether individually or with others. Over the summer, I read, I rode my bike, I walked. These activities brought short, welcome moments of peace, calm, and contentment during a stressful time.

A daily journaling practice could hold you accountable for implementing these five elements. For three months, I chronicled my activities and emotions every day. I ended each journal entry by writing lessons learned that day about building my resilience. The practice was truly life-changing.

By the end of the summer, I was in a much healthier frame of mind than I was when it started. By focusing on five ways to make myself more resilient, I was able to make a very hard time more manageable. It certainly wasn’t a perfect summer, but it was sacred to me. Even better, I continue to build my resilience so I’m more able to handle difficulties as they inevitably continue to arise.

To build your own level of resilience, ask yourself:

  • Do I let go of things I cannot control and focus my energy on changing those things I can control?
  • Do I see changes constructively—as opportunities to learn something new, try something a new way, or give up something that wasn’t working well anyway?
  • Do I take the time to determine my purpose, then use my purpose as a reason to get up and get going every day?
  • Am I thankful for what I do have and grateful that things are no worse than they are?
  • Do I take the time to do things I love, whether individually or with others?
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